Volume 9 Chapter 20 Tsukimachi Ayana, Surrounded by a Starry Sk
Edited by: Kanaa-senpai
”Hey, hey, did you see the PV of the new song the other day?”
”I saw it, I saw it. Aqua-kun was cool!”
”T-t-those glasses, they’re Shintaro-kun’s, right?”
”Hehe, I bought matching ones with my paycheck this month. Jealous, huh?”
”By the way, about yesterday’s live stream, wasn’t Toa-chan’s sneeze cute?”
”Yeah, yeah. I tried to imitate it, but I didn’t look cute at all.”
”I happened to pass by Tenga-senpai at work yesterday, and I was surprised by how tall he was.”
”I know. I passed by him on set too, and I was so nervous because of the height difference.”
In the noisy dressing room, I prepare as usual.
Today, I’ll be the best, I’ll be the strongest. I encourage myself to believe that.
That’s right… I will never show my weakness, no matter when or where.
In the ever-changing entertainment industry, weakness only becomes a burden.
To survive as a woman here, you either need overwhelming talent or you have to work tirelessly.
I realized early on that I didn’t have talent, so at first, I increased my practice time and worked hard recklessly. But then I realized that it wasn’t enough. Just working hard, just practicing, it’s not enough. I have to analyze myself, consider the situation around me, the entertainment industry, and the trends of society. If I don’t do that, my efforts will just end with practicing and working hard.
For example, Kohina-senpai, who is said to lack cooperation, actually pays great attention to her surroundings and is excellent at analyzing and judging situations. In that sense, I think Aqua has similar qualities to Kohina-senpai.
He may also have moments where he can’t read the atmosphere or is slow, but the time it takes for him to analyze the situation and make a decision is unusually fast. He may be an idol by profession, but I thought he was exceptionally suited to be an actor. That’s why Kohina-senpai’s heart must have wavered.
As a child, I thought being an actor alone would be tough, so I started doing idol activities, took on jobs as a model, and desperately tried to hold on… But when Aqua suddenly appeared, my heart was in turmoil beyond belief.
Just being a man is special enough, but he has a presence like Yukishiro Mikuni-san, and he doesn’t hesitate to put in the effort like Kohina-senpai. It would be nice if he lacked a bit of talent or if he took it easy because of his talent and being a man, but he’s not like that.
Even looking at his toned body and his hectic schedule, I think he’s extremely dedicated.
Even in the serious threads on the bulletin board that thoroughly analyze Shirogane Aqua, it was written about him.
Although we’re close now, at first, I think I was very cold towards him because of my own jealousy.
I truly feel sorry for Aqua, but when I heard he was a male entertainer, I couldn’t help but associate him with someone else.
The events of last night flash back, and I lightly tap both cheeks.
No, this won’t do. I can’t let my heart be disturbed by such things. I motivate myself over and over again.
”Hey, are you okay?”
Seeing me like that, the woman next to me, the leader of the idol group I belong to, “eau de Cologne”, Jou Maron-senpai, speaks up.
”Isn’t Ayana acting strange today? If you’re not feeling well, don’t push yourself and take a break.”
”I’m fine, Jou Maron-senpai. I can do it!”
I inadvertently avert my gaze from Jou Maron-senpai’s piercing gaze and look at myself in the mirror.
”Really? You already have more work to do, so when you can rest, rest.”
Jou Maron-senpai is the oldest member of the group at 24 years old, but she is more dedicated to being an idol, no, being a member of eau de Cologne than anyone else.
She values the group eau de Cologne more than anyone else in the group, and not only does she handle planning, but she also handles sales and miscellaneous tasks herself. She even says that if she can no longer continue as an idol, she wants to support eau de Cologne from behind.
”Oh? Ayana-senpai, are you feeling unwell today?”
Of all people in eau de Cologne, I was approached by the one who I least wanted to show my weaknesses to.
”I don’t mind changing the center position if you want? Not just for today, but forever.”
Her name is Kurushima Fran, 12 years old, and if I remember correctly, she’s still barely an elementary school student. She has the talent to be allowed to speak impudently. The occasional glimpse of her mature face and her overwhelming singing ability as a solo singer make even me, a woman, excited.
In fact, in the fan voting for the idol general election, Fran ranked second in eau de Cologne, right after me. Eventually… no, in the near future, I think she will surpass me.
”It’s okay. Thank you for worrying about me, Fran.”
”Hmm. Ayana-senpai today… is really boring.”
Fran diverted her gaze from me as if she had lost interest, and played with her smartphone while licking a candy stick.
”Everyone in eau de Cologne, it’s time for your turn, please standby!”
Led by the staff, we moved to the wings of the stage. To calm my heart, I repeatedly told myself that everything was okay. But in my mind, yesterday’s incident kept flashing.
’Hey, long time no see. Are you doing well?’
Fujisawa Makoto… the reason I came to hate men. When I was a child actor, I was targeted by him and his group for harassment. They repeatedly made it seem like my hard work was for nothing, and I cried when I went home, not just once or twice. But I never gave up.
’Hey, are you interested in being an idol?’
At that time, it was Jou Maron-senpai, who was 16 years old, who approached me. At that time, eau de Cologne was unknown, so I never had to compete with him for work. That’s when the harassment stopped, and nothing happened afterwards, so I wondered why now.
’Hey, I heard you’ve been doing well lately. I’ll play with you after a long time.’
Fujisawa, who came out of the black van, picked up a stone that had fallen on the ground and threw it up repeatedly, catching it in his palm. My body stiffened as I saw him.
In the past, he hit me with a stone and made my temple bleed. The wound is completely healed now, and it’s usually hidden by my hair, but there is a faint mark that can’t be concealed with concealer. But every time I see it in the mirror, I’m reminded of that time and feel like crying.
’Hey! I don’t know who you are, but if you try to do something to my Ayana-chan, I won’t forgive you!!’
Kohina-senpai hugged me tightly, protecting my rapidly cooling body.
’Kohina Yukari… If you also get in the way, I’ll crush you as a fellow professional, you know? Don’t get cocky just because you’re a woman.’
’Huh? I don’t want to be told that by someone like you, who’s just a nobody that I don’t even know their name!’
I thought it was amazing. I’ve been in the entertainment industry for a long time, but I think she’s the only one who can say this to a man. Fujisawa became furious when Kohina-senpai called him a nobody.
’Hey! You can beat them all up. You can go as far as to destroy their dignity as women.’
I thought that at least I should let Kohina-senpai escape, but my body froze and I couldn’t move. In the end, someone small and female came to my rescue and nothing happened, but I think my heart was torn to pieces at that time.
I realized that even though I always act strong, I’m useless at crucial moments. The place where I stood suddenly seemed unstable, and my footing became unsteady. No matter how hard I try, I may never be rewarded. Furthermore, every time I lie to myself and try to stand up, my weak self peeks out.
Maybe I should stop.
I thought it wouldn’t be bad to quit everything and spend time slowly in a place where no one knows.
Luckily, I have saved up money properly, so I can go to high school and then college like a normal student and find something new to do.
So let’s make today the last day.
With that thought in mind, I came here today.
”Let’s go, everyone!”
With Jou Maron-senpai’s words, I managed to switch my mindset and headed towards the stage with everyone.
I somehow managed to finish the performance, but I am the center of eau de Cologne.
I know better than anyone that if the center doesn’t give their best performance, it won’t be forgiven.
After the performance, as I got off the stage, Fran hugged me from behind.
”I don’t know if it’s personal or work-related, but can you please not bring that here to eau de Cologne?”
Fran’s words struck deep into my heart.
”The popular senpai might have already forgotten, but the fans who came here today got tickets with a high competition rate. Maybe for that child, this might be their first and last live performance, so is it okay to go on stage with such a performance?”
Fran is right. The allocation of tickets for music program recordings is usually less than regular tickets.
But you can see the artist up close compared to regular live performances, and you can support them, so I’ve heard that the chances of winning are extremely low.
”Yeah yeah, I get it, the way you say it”
Jou Maron-senpai, who intervened, pulled Fran away from me.
”Fran really loves Ayana, but don’t say it like that”
”Maron-senpai! That’s disrupting business!!”
”Yeah yeah, whether it’s on the internet, fan communities, or bulletin boards, everyone knows that Fran is always looking at Ayana. Don’t try to deceive ne. By the way, did you think no one noticed when you declared your love for Ayana during the first audition? You’re quite scatterbrained in that regard, aren’t you?”
Fran pointed at me and said that she won’t tolerate that kind of performance in the solo song that follows, then went back to the dressing room alone.
”Hahaha, kids these days are so young, I envy them… no, that’s not it. Ayana, are you really okay?”
”S-Sorry! I gave a lackluster performance as Maron-senpai’s eau de Cologne”
When I said that, Maron-senpai showed a sad expression.
Even Fran noticed, so Maron-senpai must have realized that my performance wasn’t good.
Knowing how much Maron loves eau de Cologne, she should never forgive the lackluster performance I showed.
”Ayana… I was the one who started eau de Cologne, but it’s not just my eau de Cologne. eau de Cologne is… my eau de Cologne, Fran’s eau de Cologne, everyone’s eau de Cologne, and the fans’ eau de Cologne. So, I want eau de Cologne to be Ayana’s eau de Cologne too”
Maron-senpai’s words struck me.
I said something terrible.
Even though I am the center of eau de Cologne, I lacked awareness of that.
”So do your best in the next solo performance. If anything happens, I might not be reliable, but I’ll be there to listen to you later… So for now, just focus on the stage and show everyone that the center of eau de Cologne, Tsukimachi Ayana, is not like that”
I tightly clenched my fist. If I came here as a professional, as a working adult, I have to complete my work no matter what happens. The fans and members don’t know my situation, and standing here, none of it can be an excuse.
”Thank you, Maron-senpai! Thanks to you, I feel motivated!”
”Thank you, Ayana. I respect your high professionalism as an idol.”
Other members around me also encouraged me to do my best.
I motivated myself again.
I don’t know how many more times I can stand on stage as Eau de Cologne.
So, because of that person, I didn’t want to disrespect the remaining stages, the feelings of the other members, the bond with the supporting fans, and the efforts of the staff.
Just a little more, just a little more, I support my wounded heart, cheering myself on.
”Tsukimachi-san, the stage is ready. Can you go for a solo performance?”
I slowly head towards the stage.
It’s okay, I can do it. I showed my usual strength.
”Hey, security guard.”
The audience became restless, and when I wondered what was happening, a woman with a knife came up on stage.
I didn’t know what was happening and I froze in place.
”It’s because of you… because of you, Makoto got arrested!”
Ah… this person is one of the women who surround him, Makoto Fujisawa. I remember her well because she is his cousin and she used to bully me when I was a child actor.
She probably knew in advance that Fujisawa was going to attack me. So she came here to attack me, knowing that he hadn’t returned and got caught because of me.
Normally, the security guards would have stopped her somewhere, but Fujisawa is the member the Fuji clan and he originally had connections in the entertainment industry, so maybe that’s how she was able to infiltrate this Fuji TV-affiliated program.
But even if I knew that, there was nothing I could do.
She swung the knife towards me. In the slow-motion world, I saw Maron-senpai and Fran rushing towards me. I wanted to tell them not to come because it was dangerous, but the knife was approaching me faster than I could speak.
Ah… I wondered if I could finally be at ease, if I didn’t have to try so hard anymore. In the next moment, I heard the sound of a blade slicing through the air and a metallic sound echoing on the ground.
The foolish woman’s voice echoed on the stage. I slowly opened my eyes, which had been closed, and there he was.
”Why is it like this… I don’t really understand, but… using a knife is just too much.”
A person who shouldn’t be there. His name was not among the performers of the music show we were on, SOUND FAIR, and he didn’t have any plans to come to Fuji TV on the Monday 9 o’clock drama schedule.
”Sh… Shirogane Aqua… why…”
Fujisawa’s cousin was taken aback. Everyone around, including those who were watching, was surprised, and everyone’s movements stopped. Through the silence, I heard the sound of something dripping.
”Blood, there’s blood!”
”Aqua-sama, Aqua-sama is injured!”
”Oh no, hospital, ambulance, no, first call the police!”
”That woman… let’s kill her!”
”Ev… everyone, calm down!”
”Security guard, over here!”
”That woman, restrain her!”
When I looked closely, blood was dripping from Aqua’s hand. Did he get cut when he knocked the knife away? It looks painful… it’s really foolish of him to protect someone like me.
I wanted to tell him to take better care of himself. No, more importantly, I should say thank you first… that’s what I thought, but I couldn’t find the words.
”Are you okay?”
”Why… why are you here?”
I wanted to criticize myself for not saying that’s not the point. It’s not cute that I can’t even say thank you for helping me here, I think to myself.
”I heard from Kohina-senpai.”
”Just for that… why?”
My heart aches even more. Because I didn’t think I was a woman valuable enough to be helped by Aqua to that extent.
”It’s meaningless to help someone like me! No matter how hard I try… I always get in someone’s way like this. I’m so sick of it! I can’t take it anymore…!!”
I know it’s a childish excuse. The things I had been holding back until now broke through, and I couldn’t stop crying.
”I don’t have any talent. I knew that a long time ago. But I came here because I admired the entertainment industry and desperately clung to it… and yet, someone always gets in my way like this, I don’t know what to do anymore!!”
Her blade was stopped by Aqua, but that blade definitely tore apart my heart. I can’t stand up anymore. I recognize that my heart is broken. But to someone like me, Aqua reaches out his hand.
”But even so, if you give up on something like this, you’ll definitely regret it. If you’re going to quit, you should do it after giving it your all. I… have acted with Ayana before, so I know how hard you’re working. That’s why I want to say this. Don’t give up here! No talent? Don’t be ridiculous! The Tsukimachi Ayana I know is not a woman who gives up so easily just because of that!!”
I’m sorry for being a woman who doesn’t give up easily!! And I know that more than anyone else. But I didn’t want to hear it from Aqua, who works just as hard as I do but has talent.
”Shut up! Don’t compare yourself with me, who has talent and can work hard!!”
”Even so, I couldn’t beat Kohina-senpai!! Don’t you remember? We still can’t beat Kohina-senpai alone!! We promised to compete to see who can surpass her acting skills first!!”
I remember even without being told. I was happy when I could act well, but in the next moment, I was surpassed. I remember practicing with Aqua many times, wondering how I could act better than her, even though we both worked hard. In the end, I couldn’t win alone. But that’s why we made a promise. Someday, we’ll surpass Kohina-senpai in acting…
”And as an idol, is Ayana satisfied with that? Look around, Tsukimachi Ayana!! You have so many fans. I’m one of Ayana’s eau de Cologne fans. Look at this instead of worrying about such a trivial thing, Tsukimachi Ayana!! If it’s hard, if it’s painful, say it! You’re never alone!!”
I’m not alone… Aqua’s words resonate with me. Maron-senpai, Fran, and other members have also talked to me, not just now. I had been asked many times if I was okay since we saw each other today, but I had arrogantly kept it to myself, and I had broken down on my own.
Aqua turned his eyes toward the audience, asking me to look around more carefully.
”He’s right! Ayana-chan is not alone!”
”I’ve been supporting Ayana-chan since you joined eau de Cologne!”
”Although Ayana-chan always does her best, it’s okay to take a break sometimes!”
”We’re fans, and we want you to rely on us more and more!”
”That’s right, we’re the ones who always get energy from you, so let us give you some in return!”
”I know it’s tough to keep pushing forward, but I want to say it. Keep going, Ayana-chan!!”
”Don’t quit for someone like that!!”
”No matter what happens, we fans will always be with you!”
”Please, Ayana-chan! Let us support Tsukimachi Ayana of eau de Cologne forever!!”
”I’ve received a lot of courage from Ayana-chan. So now it’s our turn to give you courage!”
Ah… I see, I really couldn’t see anything around me. With Aqua leading me, I stand up and turn my gaze towards the backstage area.
”Ayana, you finally looked at me properly, not in the mirror.”
Maron-senpai tightly hugs me, and from behind, Fran also embraces me.
”…I absolutely won’t accept Ayana-senpai not being the center until I surpass her.”
”Fran, isn’t that a bit too selfish? Besides, I might win against Ayana-chan next time!”
”It’s impossible for Maron-senpai. I don’t want to see Ayana-senpai lose to anyone else.”
”Grr, I’ll definitely beat you in the next election!”
”That’s impossible too, only Ayana-senpai can beat me. So Ayana-senpai has to stay as the center forever.”
”Geez, Fran really likes Ayana, huh? Well, Ayana, since you’re so popular with our juniors, you absolutely can’t quit.”
Other members also join in and hug me. Encouragement and applause come from the other idols who witnessed it. It feels nice, like the first time I’ve felt warmth since entering the entertainment industry. They’re not just rivals but comrades pursuing the same dream. I don’t want to leave them now that I’ve realized that.
”Darn it, let go of me! Do you even know who I am?!”
Fujisawa Makoto’s cousin, who was being held down by a security guard, curses at him. From there, a woman approaches slowly.
”I’ll ask you this: do you even know who I am?”
The woman’s face turns pale. The one who addressed her was Fuji Ranko, the president of the Fuji Group.
”As of now, I’m expelling your family from the Fuji clan. Oh, I assume you haven’t thought about turning yourself in to the police, have you? You should know with your own body what it’s like to hurt Aqua-sama. Please take her to the basement of the headquarters. I’ll take her somewhere more enjoyable than hell. Oh, and contact Mary-sama too.”
I couldn’t make out what she was saying, but the woman fainted under the pressure of Fuji Ranko’s words. I move away from everyone and head back to Aqua.
”Oh, that… I’m sorry, it’s my fault.”
I bow my head, looking at the bloodstains.
”Don’t worry about it. It’s not as bad as it looks, and the bleeding has already stopped, so just spit it out and it’ll heal eventually.”
That was a lie, even for someone like him who’s usually good at acting, it was immediately apparent. Seeing my doubtful gaze, Aqua noticed and poked my forehead with his index finger.
”Guys tend to act tough in front of girls, even if it hurts. So in those times, yeah, it’s better to just say thank you.”
”I’m sorry for not being honest. But… thank you.”
A staff member arrives promptly and starts treating Aqua’s injury. The recording of the show was about to be temporarily canceled due to the incident, but they decided to continue after considering each member’s schedule and the fans’ feelings.
”Ayana-senpai, are you… by any chance, in love with Aqua-sama?”
”Huh?! What are you even saying, Fran?!”
”Oh, that got my interest. The real Aqua-kun is really cool. Today, I even thought it was a drama.”
”So, what’s the truth, Ayana-senpai?”
”Come on, Ayana-chan, try talking to your senpai honestly.”
The two of them move closer to me.
”I-I have a solo performance recording!!”
”Oh, she ran away.”
”Ayana-senpai, you’re cute.”
Seriously, what are they saying! While it’s true that Aqua is cool, he’s like that with everyone! You shouldn’t take him seriously because if you fall in love with him, you’ll definitely get jealous.
”Tsukimachi-san, your face is red, but are you okay?”
”Then, please head towards the stage.”
I start walking slowly towards the stage from the backstage area. However, my feet stop there.
The light of the spotlight illuminating the stage and the headlights of the van I saw last night overlap, making my body feel unsteady. Just as I was about to step back, someone gently pushed my heart and back with their palm.
My heart jumps at Aqua’s voice.
”I said earlier that I want to win against Kohina senpai as an actor, but I also don’t want to lose to Tsukimachi Ayana as an idol. So… let’s compete to see who becomes the strongest idol first.”
”Hehe, in that case, us girls are at a huge disadvantage, aren’t we?”
”But Ayana isn’t the type to give up on something like that, right?”
”Seriously… everyone keeps pushing me to be Tsukimachi Ayana however they like… but it’s not so bad. Fine, I’ll become number one at anything. So, until I win, you won’t lose to anyone either!”
”Ah, of course. So go ahead. Show me Tsukimachi Ayana, the unshakable center of eau de Cologne, from the best seat.”
I really don’t want to engage in such a stupid and pointless competition, so please calm down a bit. I’m not the type to be swayed by the atmosphere of the place, you know.
But… sometimes it’s not so bad to be honest with my own heart. I raise my face that was looking down without turning around. Because if I turned around here, it felt like the moon inside me would fall.
”Fine. So watch, just for these few minutes. Don’t take your eyes off me.”
I start walking slowly towards the stage. Aqua… I will make you regret making me serious. Can’t you see that I will defeat you both as an actor and as an idol? And after defeating you in everything, I will say it to your face. So until that time, wash your neck and wait.
Now, from here on, it’s my stage as the center of eau de Cologne, Tsukimachi Ayana!
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Edited by Kanaa-senpai.
Thanks for reading.